A lesson from Johnny Mac

 

Hi all. I’d like to start out this column by simply stating that John McLaughlin is one of the greatest guitarists of all time…while this is nothing new, it can’t be said enough.

 

I can still remember how damn exciting every Mahavishnu Orchestra album was, I still listen to them and they still amaze me, if you haven’t got any, please…I urge you to get familiar with his work. This week, I’m going to point you in the direction of one of his harmonic gems, and how, with a slight twist it can show how melody and harmony are pretty much the same thing…but also how it can help with generating easy to play extensions and alterations

 

The tune we’re going to have a look at is “Birds of Fire”, which for the majority of the tune is built on a 2 chord vamp of G#7 alt and Bb7 alt, their fingering are shown in the diagrams-

 

They contain the notes

 

G#7 alt- G#, F#, B#, B & E ( R, b7, 3, #9 , b13/ #5 )                                                            (I’ve written this as G# as it makes some of the chord spellings easier)

 

Bb7 alt- Bb, Ab, D, B & E  ( R, b7, 3, b9,  b5)

 

The melody which is played over the top of this is derived from a simple E minor pentatonic scale, which contains the notes

 

E min pent- E, G, A, B & D

 

So in terms of G#7 alt, E minor pentatonic can be seen as

 

E (b13/#5) G (7) A (b9) B(#9) D(b5)

 

and in terms of Bb7 alt, the scale can be seen as

 

E (b5)  G(13) A(7) B(b9) D(3)

 

Notice that the open strings in both chords become altered 5ths and 9ths ( B and E ) , also notice that these notes are a 4th apart ( B - c- d - E). So, let’s take this a little further… what if we looked for more 4ths in the scale and made them altered 5ths and 9ths. This is a pretty cool thing to do with a minor pentatonic scale, because there are four lots of 4ths in there-

 

E to A

 

A to D

 

B to E

 

D to G

 

 

E and A could be the altered 5th and 9th of Eb7 (E=b9, A=b5) and Db7 (E=#9, A=#5)

 

E minor pentatonic in terms of Eb7 would be

 

E (b9) G (3) A (b5) B (#5) D (7)

 

 

E minor pentatonic in terms of Db7 would be

 

E (#9) G (b5) A (#5) B (b7) D (b9)

 

 

A and D could be the altered 5th and 9th of Ab7 (A=b9, D=b5) and Gb7 (A=#9, D=#5)

 

 

E minor pentatonic in terms of Ab7 would be

 

E (#5) G (7) A (b9) B (#9) D (b5)

 

E minor pentatonic in terms of Gb7 would be

 

E (b7) G (b9) A (#9) B (11) D (#5)

 

 

B and E could be the altered 5th and 9th of  Bb7 and G#7 (we started out with this one)

 

D and G could be the altered 5th and 9th of Db7 (D = b9, G = b5) and B7 (D=#9, G = #5)

 

 

E minor pentatonic in terms of Db7 would be

 

E (#9) G (b5) A (#5) B (b7) D (b9)

 

 

E minor pentatonic in terms of B7 would be

 

E (11) G (#5) A (b7) B (R) D (b3/#9)

 

 

So, what we’ve just given ourselves shows how harmony and melody can work hand in hand. How the same scale can sound very different when it’s considered from a variety of harmonic viewpoints. Start thinking in terms of “ If I played a dominant chord a #11 away from the tonic of a minor pentatonic scale, I would bet the intervals #5, ma7, b9, #9, b5”.  Try these out for yourself, what tunes do you know which have a melody which contains notes from a minor pentatonic scale…loads? Reharmonise them, see where it takes you. Enjoy!! More next time